Taking your wildlife garden bird photography to the next level is easy.
I have noticed a lot of bird photographs on Facebook have been taken with a bird feeder in the shot. The truth is that yours or a friend’s garden is the best place to start bird photography. Once you put seed out for birds it might take a bit of time but they will find it and soon word will get around and you will entice a lot of birds to your location. You can take photos of the birds whilst they are on the feeders but after a while you will get fed up with the same type of images and you will look for something else. But once you have put in the effort to enticed birds to your garden you are not a million miles away from taking your bird photography to the next level which is making your bird photos appear as though they have been taken in the wild. When I say appear as though they are in the wild we all know that the birds are wild but you have not photographed them with anything man made within the image.
All you will require is a good looking branch, a stand to hold it and know where to site it. When I say a good looking branch, look at other bird photographs and see what branches other people have used and which ones you like. These could be branches with buds, flowers, leaves or with lichen etc. on them and then go out and find some of these branches. A word of warning, please do not cut them from other people's property without their permission and only collect a couple of branches you will use for the next couple of weeks. When looking for these branches you will only need one or two twigs. These twigs need only be about 80cm in length at most. If you get a bush or a branch with lots of twigs then the photo could end up being messy, there is more opportunity for the bird to land in a place other than the area you are focused on or twigs could get in the way when you try to focus on the bird. Whilst I am talking about focusing remember to focus on the bird’s eye to get a good photo. If the bird you are trying to photograph is small then try and get a small delicate twig to match the bird size. If the twig is a large stump then the image will not be as good as you can make it as it will be unbalanced, size counts (I will not digress) (stop sniggering at the back).
Once you have got your “good looking” twig you now need to site it. Too close and the birds will fly straight past and land on the feeder. Too far and again the birds will ignore it. Try and site it about 40cm away from your feeder and at about the same level / height. You want it sited far enough away from the feeder so that you do not get the feeder in your image. Get this right in camera rather than cloning the feeder out later as it saves a lot of time and effort. What will happen is that the birds will land on this twig, have a last look round for danger and then fly to the feeder. You want this to be between the last bit of hedge or “proper” cover and the feeder. You could move it slightly further away once the birds get used to it being there but not in big chunks, in other words move it away about 10cm each couple of days until the feeder is out of shot. The time you want to take the photo is just after the bird lands on the twig. The birds could get the seed and then bring it back to your twig but you are trying to achieve a “wildlife” type image so photographing birds with seed either in their beak or between their feet is a no no. To get a good clear background and make your bird stand out site the twig with the background being about 3 to 4 metres behind the twig. Take a photo of the background and check it to see if it's what you are after and if there is anything out of place, a highlight for example, if there is then move it or move your setup. Also think about how the light is falling on your twig and what type of lighting you want for your photo whether it is front, side or back lighting.
The lens you will need can be either a 300mm, 400mm or a 500mm lens. The smaller the lens then the closer you will have to be to get the bird a decent size in your image. The closer you are then the birds might notice your camera / lens movement and sound coming from the camera or yourself. Having the camera mounted on a tripod will save your arms and will lessen the amount of movement. The aperture you require is either f4, f5.6 or f8 depending on the effect and shutter speed you want or can achieve depending on the ISO you have selected. You can use a hide or even take photos from your open window. For more information about hides please see my previous Blog titled “Entering the Circle of Fear, Stalking and Hides Part One and Part Two”. The second choice can be dangerous for the birds as if the setup is too close to Windows then they could fly into the window damaging or even killing themselves.
The types of images you can get from this setup and technique are: -
“Bird on a stick”, (I hate that phrase) where the bird is still, on the twig and appears to be doing nothing. I know this is not true because birds are always alert and looking for danger but a very fast shutter speed will stop all movement and makes it appear that the bird is doing nothing.
“Action” birds will queue up on your twig and squabbles will happen. Look out for this and learn to anticipate it as these types of images are far better for the viewers.
Moving on from these types of image you can go to another level by gradually moving the twig slightly further away from the feeder but not too far that the birds ignore it. You will need a tripod for this to work. Focus your camera half way between the end of your twig and the feeder; you might have to do this by focusing manually. Getting the focus right is the hardest part of this kind of photography. To help you, try focusing on the feeder and then panning / moving the camera to the halfway position whilst it is on the tripod. The trouble is that you are hoping that the birds keep to the same flight path, remember they are wildlife so that means they won't. This means that you might have to adjust the focus slightly every now and then. Keep it on manual focus so that the focus does not change when you press the shutter release. Also set your drive mode to maximum continuous shooting. Then when the bird flies from the twig to the feeder press your shutter release and with luck you should get some good flight shots. If at first you do not succeed do not give up, perseverance is needed to be a wildlife photographer. Start pressing your shutter release as soon as the bird moves a second more and you will miss the shot. It is best if you use a cable release so that you do not move the camera when tripping the shutter. You will need a fast shutter speed, above 1500th sec and at least an aperture of f8 or f11 to get a decent amount of depth of field.
Try it out and keep at it, good luck and you are more than welcome to either tell me about your results or post any of your photos on my Facebook page www.facebook.com/robin.stanbridge.1